James Ker-Lindsay: Legal or not, this has not solved issue of recognition

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While they will be celebrating in Pristina, and there is no doubt that in a broad sense this is a victory for Kosovo, yesterday's ruling opinion is far more complex.

The issue that this International Court of Justice (made up of the 15 most eminent jurors in the world) did not touch upon – and the one that ultimately matters – is the question of recognition. Recognition is important because it means entry into the community of nations, access to global trading treaties and the United Nations.

In reality we're not a lot further on this morning from where we were 24 hours ago. The countries that didn't want to recognise Kosovo will still not have to do so. However, in another sense, the ruling does have real significance in as much as it seems to get Russia off the hook over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The two territories are claimed by Georgia but have both declared independence and been recognised by Russia. With this ruling, Russia can now say their declarations were not illegal, and that it has the sovereign right to recognise these territories, just as the US, Britain, France, Germany and other EU states have recognised Kosovo.

The danger is that we're looking at what we might call secondary states; sphere states that depend on others. Kosovo looks to the EU and the US; South Ossetia looks to Moscow.

For some countries that are very worried about secession – such as Cyprus, Georgia and Moldova – they will take some comfort from this ruling because it doesn't say secession is legal. What this ruling means for separatist groups around the world is they are now much freer to make the declaration and try their luck.

But good luck to them on getting recognition. 2008 was not the first time that Kosovo had declared independence. It did so in the early 1990s, when it was recognised only by Albania. Ultimately if Kosovo wants to join the UN, it will have to find a way to satisfy Russia. Something will therefore have to be sorted out between Serbia and Kosovo. We've tried the legal route and yesterday that provided its answer. What still needs to be found is a lasting and viable political solution that solves the matter once and for all.

Dr James Ker-Lindsay is a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics and a specialist on conflict, peace and security

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